Electronic compared to mechanical shifting: The pros and downsides

There is a rising development among functionality highway bikes of hiding cables for a modern seem. Some manufacturers have managed to discover a way to squeeze both equally brake hoses and gear housings as a result of limited bends, although other people simplicity the procedure by earning their bikes appropriate with digital gears only (e.g. Shimano Di2 or SRAM eTap). 

And it’s particularly this development that had us eager to discuss via some of the bigger factors in the discussion of digital compared to mechanical shifting when getting a new bike. No for a longer period is it a uncomplicated scenario of which just one shifts improved, more quickly or requires a lot less servicing – the subject has grow to be broader than that. 

And so although sitting in the center of an apple orchard inside of Victoria’s Substantial State, we decided to do what anybody else in our scenario would: discuss the major professionals and cons of derailleur-centered electronic gearing for highway and gravel riders. Take into consideration this a beginner’s tutorial to the subject. 

A mechanical link versus an electrical zap 

Cable-operated derailleurs day back again some 70 decades, and considering the fact that then we’ve viewed a slow evolution of the engineering, which includes the introduction of indexed gears, the shifting of the shifter to the handlebar, and typical refinement of the method. However, what has remained unchanged is the steel Bowden cable connecting the shifter to the derailleur. 

That improved in the early ’90s when Mavic showed that digital, motor-pushed derailleurs were a chance and that potentially there was a different way to transfer a derailleur. But it wasn’t until eventually much more than a 10 years later on that Shimano’s Di2 (and to a considerably lesser extent Campagnolo’s EPS) created the plan a success. Right now it’s a scarce sight to see a mechanical groupset raced at the sport’s top-stage, and it’s also starting to be progressively rough to obtain a prime-stop bike off-the-shelf with cable-operated gearing. 

Electronic gears rule the roost when it arrives to racing.

The early sales pitch for electronic gearing was that it provided an effortless and rapid gear change devoid of you having to mechanically leverage the derailleur by yourself. Electronic gears were being also meant to be established-and-neglect, and quick of the battery functioning out of juice or a knock to the derailleur, the system would continue to work just how it was in the beginning established up (at the very least in concept). 

Individuals same benefits keep on as a result of to now, but the most current overall performance bikes have launched further positives for electronic gearing. And so without the need of receiving way too significantly into the weeds, here’s a shorter glimpse at the pros and downsides of modern-day electronic derailleur-primarily based drivetrains. 

The pros 

Small-exertion shifting

Pressing a button and listening to a derailleur go “bzzzzzt” is undoubtedly less difficult than pushing on a mechanical lever right until it hits an index level. Never get me erroneous, present day mechanical shifting is amazing, but there’s just no beating a little servo motor executing the work for you. This is primarily genuine for entrance shifting and equally applies to rear shifting with the arrival of clutched derailleurs (for elevated chain protection) and complicated cable paths. 

Intuitive utilization

If you are new to biking, points can get a very little perplexing on a bike that has gears at the crank and rear wheel. Don’t forget how strange it was that the entrance shifter buttons went in the opposite path to the rear derailleur? By distinction, electronic gearing can be set up to be intuitive. 

Likely a action further more, a quantity of electronic drivetrains can be employed in a sequential mode that implies the entrance shifting is properly taken treatment of for you. This may well not be an pleasing function for the seasoned cyclist, but it can be a video game-changer for individuals new to the sport. 

A number of change points 

Traditionally a mechanical shifting procedure would have a derailleur connected to the shifter by way of the cable, and the spot of your shifter would be the only position you could shift from. 

Digital shifting modified that by permitting optional shift factors to be included. As a end result, it is now prevalent to see sprinters with a second set of shifters in their drops, climbers with buttons near their stem, and time-trialists with shifters at both of those out there hand positions. 

A fashionable mechanical-shifting bicycle only lets you to shift at the brake levers. Digital drivetrains present a new earth of risk.


Discuss to any bike mechanic and they’ll inform you the biggest benefit to electronic drivetrains is that there’s no mechanical cable or housing to compress, crack, contaminate, rust, or fray. And this profit definitely results in being a greater win on modern-day bikes that have concealed cabling paths. 

Unless of course something has long gone really awry on an digital technique, it’s rather a lot established and neglect. As soon as established up properly, an digital technique must only at any time demand adjustment if the derailleur has taken a knock or if the gearing sizes getting used are adjusted. And that simplicity is guaranteed to guide with a lot easier servicing above the daily life of the bike. Just be confident to retain that battery billed. 


In new decades we’ve found bikes become progressively far more integrated, aerodynamic, and clean-on the lookout. A component of that has been the hiding of cables and the latest integrated road (and gravel) bikes are now going to terrific lengths to cover cables totally within of the bike.

These concealed cable paths search good but they present substantial difficulties for mechanical derailleur devices. The cable paths are now more time and extra convoluted than at any time in advance of, and that specifically effects in more cable friction and for that reason poorer shifting. Additionally, servicing those people cables is now a significantly additional complex system.

Electronic shifting may well be the cause of this problem, but it is the option nonetheless. 

An increasing range of overall performance bikes are moving to interior units that are typically digital-only (this sort of as what is demonstrated).

Uncomplicated set up, very simple style

This carefully ties in with the points over and is most applicable to SRAM’s eTap wireless programs or possibly even FSA’s WE group. A normal absence of wires is inevitably less difficult to established up and put in than one that demands cutting cables or measuring wires. In SRAM’s circumstance, you rather virtually bolt on a few of derailleurs and wirelessly pair them to the shifters – it’s like connecting new Bluetooth headphones to a cellular phone.

Equally, SRAM’s wi-fi method has allowed a number of lesser body makers to all but forget about cable routing and go with clean up, simple, and elegant styles. Even the place cables are not concealed by the handlebar or stem, a wi-fi method is unquestionably nicer on the lookout. 

The cons


Electronic gearing stays a premium function. The least expensive alternatives are however significantly extra high-priced than Shimano Ultegra mechanical or equivalent, and so electronic is simply out of access for those people searching to acquire an entry-amount or even mid-tier bicycle.

Are you hunting at a bike with Shimano 105, Tiagra or even Claris shifting? Sorry, electronic shifting is not for you.

The truth is that the wide producing expenditures are tied up in the derailleur servo motors and the rechargeable batteries that operate them, and there is no straightforward way of bringing that tech down to a truly minimal-price tag stage. 

For now, Shimano gives its Di2 electronic gearing at Ultegra and Dura-Ace degrees (or GRX 810 if you are searching at gravel), when SRAM also only offers electronic shifting in its two top rated-tier drivetrains. 

You have to cost your gears 

Mechanical gearing programs may perhaps demand occasional tweaking or cable replacements, but you in no way have to get worried about the charge amount of a battery. Maintaining a test on the battery level is a popular draw back across all digital drivetrain programs, and a failure to do so will at some point guide to a challenging ride and an embarrassing tale. 

The very good information is that most digital drivetrains have extended-lasting batteries. Many Shimano Di2 or SRAM eTap people can go months without the need of charging, and it’s effortless to verify when it’s time to prime up the juice. 


Traditionally digital drivetrains increase weight above mechanical systems. The deficiency of steel cables and elaborate shifting mechanisms inside the brake levers could preserve excess weight, but the electric motors and batteries concerned often incorporate that pounds back in, and then some. The hole is closing, and depending on the bicycle and gearing set up you would like to use, digital can be lighter in some scenarios.

In the scenario of Shimano, the weight penalty for electronic gearing is now underneath 100 grams.

SRAM’s wireless program is basically heavier than the company’s equivalent mechanical team.

Much less possibility of issue-solving 

Mechanical shifting systems are relatively uncomplicated things, and that implies you can usually correct issues with some standard knowledge and instruments. Distinction that with digital techniques which, although even easier to established up, aren’t so effortless to troubleshoot if items go mistaken. 

Equipment cables and equipment housing can be procured at any bicycle retailer. It’s not guaranteed that your community bike retailer will have replacement areas for an digital drivetrain.

Break a equipment cable whilst on a cycling getaway? Prospects are you can uncover a substitute and get rolling again. Pinch an digital wire on that exact same vacation? Well, that could be tougher to get out of. 

Buttons can absence tactile suggestions or regulate

Professional cyclists race on digital drivetrains all over the period, but at the time or twice a 12 months you’ll see some of them swap back again to mechanical gearing for the cobbled classics (e.g. Paris-Roubaix). This change is due to the reality that mechanical shifting techniques continue to provide a larger tactile really feel and shifting control than urgent an electric button.

Even further to this stage, it’s pretty frequent for people who dwell in chilly climates and usually put on thick winter season gloves to prefer mechanical systems. This is because the buttons on Shimano Di2 are positioned near with each other and it can be tough to strike the button you motivation. SRAM’s eTap or Campagnolo’s EPS never go through this problem, but then nor does any mechanical shifting setup. 

Shimano Di2 areas the two change buttons close collectively. This can be a challenge in some situations.

And as a ultimate stage on this, mechanical shifting affords the user some direct opinions when actuating a change. Seasoned cyclists will often discuss about timing the change at the lever with their pedal stroke, and even experience the shift by their arms. In this sense, mechanical shifting is like driving a guide car or truck, while digital is far more akin to a semi-automated with paddle shifters.  

The sector is trending away from mechanical

If you abide by the CyclingTips group you will know that many of us have a own preference for mechanical programs. The tactile truly feel, the simplicity of fix, the price for dollars – all of this retains us on clickety gears. But our individual bikes also never have extremely sophisticated cable routing paths and a lot of of us grew up spinning spanners in bicycle shops and are comfortable modifying cables at the initial sign of a gradual change. 

The truth right now is that electronic geared devices are the less difficult possibility for most. They’re a lot more possible to perform without having intervention and permit you target on the journey. And it is for these explanations that the most important players in the business see digital shifting as the foreseeable future. Just never overlook that individuals batteries will need a cost every single at the time in a though.